Sunday, May 31, 2009

Missing Reese's peanut butter cups? Here's your solution ...

Before Ainsley was diagnosed with allergies to (among other things) milk and peanuts, my favorite candy was, hands-down, Reese's peanut butter cups. In fact, I loved any combination of chocolate and peanut butter, including chocolate/peanut-butter fudge and ice-cream and chocolate pudding with peanut butter mixed in. Since Ainsley's diagnosis, out of "protest" (to peanuts? To food allergies? I'm not sure) I have not eaten a Reese's peanut butter cup since ... and I've missed them.

Yesterday I unexpectedly found a recipe for my new favorite candy ... homemade no-bake soy butter & chocolate bars that (if memory serves) taste nearly identical to Reese's. It was on a box of Kroger chocolate graham crackers that I recently bought. Of course, the recipe calls for peanut butter but I immediately thought about substituting soy butter. We gave it a try, and let me tell you, the entire family is in love with the result. Without further ado, I bring you my version of soy butter & chocolate heaven.

Dairy-free, peanut-free (and vegan) soy butter & chocolate candy (compare to Reese's peanut butter cups)

1/2 cup safe chocolate graham crackers or Oreos, crushed into crumbs
1/2 jar (about 7 oz) soy butter or sunbutter
6 tbsp dairy-free margarine, softened (I use Earth Balance)
1/2 lb powdered sugar
1 cup safe chocolate chips (such as Kroger's FMV brand or Enjoy Life)

To make graham cracker or Oreo crumbs, place crackers/cookies in plastic ziploc bag and crush with rolling pin. Using electric mixer, cream together soy butter/sunbutter and margarine until soft and smooth. Beat in powdered sugar and cracker/cookie crumbs. Beat until well-blended and moist. If mixture looks dry (if it looks like breadcrumbs instead of batter), add 1-2 tsp. of water to bring it together and make it smooth and creamy. Spread mixture in 9x9 pan. Melt chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave (heat for 1 min., stir, heat for 30 sec., stir, etc. until completely melted). If melted chocolate is too thick to spread easily, thin with ~1 tbsp of soy milk. Pour chocolate over soy butter/sunbutter butter mixture and spread in a layer over the mixture with a spatula or spoon. Refrigerate 3 or 4 hours or until set. Cut into small bars and refrigerate any leftovers.

* * * *
Some comments: (1) I doubt you really need to add the crushed graham cracker crumbs or Oreos, but since that's what's in the original recipe, and how I prepared it, I included it here. Also, as one reader has pointed out, you could use regular graham crackers instead of chocolate ones. (2) If you had more time, you could also shape the soy butter/sunbutter mixture into balls and coat them in the melted chocolate for a fancier look. (3) This candy would make an awesome mix-in to vanilla soy ice cream. In fact, I might finally buy an ice-cream maker just to make soy ice cream with this in it. (4) As is obvious, this is not a low-calorie treat. But my food-allergic kiddo is as skinny as a beanpole so she could use the extra fat. Now, me, on the other hand ... I have no excuse for how much of this I've eaten in the past 12 hours!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not our best day

My plan was to post about the vacation we just took and how it went pretty well, especially due to the hotel being very accommodating in giving us a mini-fridge for free and the reception people being very nice in heating up some of Ainsley's food in the staff microwave. But that good experience has been overshadowed by the events of the last night - the day after we returned from vacation - when I had to administer the Epi-Pen for the second time in my poor little 4-year-old's life.

The day started out great. I went to work, the kids had great fun with their new babysitter, and after work I took them to a music class. Driving home from the class, Ainsley noticed (as she always does at this particular intersection) a giant TCBY sign shaped like a yogurt-filled cone. For the first time, I told her that I had heard from the family of another food-allergic child who has the same allergies as her that the sorbet at the TCBY was safe and asked if she'd like to try it. Ainsley immediately got excited and wanted to try the sorbet. I turned the car around and we decided to make a go of it.

When we got into the yogurt shop, I immediately located the owner and asked him about the sorbet and he assured me it had nothing in it that Ainsley was allergic to and that the soft-serve machine that dispensed it was used only for sorbet and not also for yogurt. He showed me the machine and said there was no risk of cross-contamination. I told him that I had been referred there by another food-allergic family and he said, "Oh, yes, the Smiths, they've been coming here for years." That made me feel good. The kid had been eating there for years with no reaction. Everything was gonna be okay. Not so much.

I ordered two kid-sized cups of sorbet (strawberry-kiwi flavored) and watched the owner put the sorbet in two completely clean paper cups. We sat down at one of the tables and began eating. I asked her at least every 30 seconds whether her mouth itched or anything hurt. She repeatedly told me "No Mommy" and kept gobbling up the sorbet.

I began to exhale. Everything was okay. No problem. We'd be able to bring her back again and again and this would be the one ice-cream-type place she could actually eat at - whoo hoo! But my fantasy quickly began to evaporate as she began coughing after finishing the last few bites. Probably just environmental allergies, I thought. As I was buckling her into her car seat for the ride home (after wiping her hands with a wipe to get any residue off that she might have picked up from the table - which had looked very clean - or chair), I noticed some slight red blotches above her upper lip and on one cheek. I thought hopefully, "Maybe it's just coloring from the sorbet," which was red.

Then she told me her throat hurt. Uh oh. That was a new symptom. In all of her reactions, she'd never mentioned that before. It scared me silly because I knew that anything involving the throat could mean her throat was swelling shut. So, even though she had not exhibited any of the other big signs indicative of her previous reactions (vomiting, large patches of hives), I gave her 2 teaspoons of Benadryl and pulled out the Epi-Pen.

I'd like to say I immediately gave her the Epi-Pen, because that's what I'd want anyone to do in this situation, but the truth is I hesitated. As soon as Ainsley saw me pull it out, she began wailing and begging me not to use it. She even lied, telling me "No Mommy, my throat really doesn't hurt!" to get me to put it away. Finally, I had to explain to her, "If your throat really does hurt and I don't give this to you, you could die. So you need to tell me the truth about your throat. Does it hurt or not?" To this she admitted, "Yes, my throat hurts - give me the Epi-Pen!"

I finally got my courage up and shot her with it, patiently counting to 10 before pulling it out of her leg to ensure all the medicine got in her. After getting that over with, I decided I should get her some medical attention in case the Epi-Pen didn't work (even though I had two extra Epi-Pens in my bag, I have read stories of how children needed more than just epinephrine). So I had to decide whether to drive her to the hospital or call the paramedics. Because there was no hospital nearby (the closest was at least 15 minutes away), I did the latter. Thankfully, within 5 minutes the ambulance arrived and two wonderful guys began very sweetly tending to Ainsley -checking her breathing, blood pressure, and pulse - and reassuring her very freaked out mommy that I had done everything right and that because of what I did, she was going to be fine. They even gave her a stuffed dalmation puppy, which has barely left her side since.

While the paramedics were tending to Ainsley, my husband arrived, and was able to hold Leighton, who was completely oblivious to the situation, while I continued to concentrate on Ainsley. After about 30 minutes, we all agreed that Ainsley seemed fine and didn't need to go to the hospital or any further medical attention, so the ambulance left. As soon as it pulled out of the parking lot, though, Ainsley began crying and saying that her throat still hurt and she wanted them to come back. We asked her if it had gotten worse and she said no, but wanted the paramedics to stay with her until it stopped hurting.

Because she had checked out okay, we decided that, in lieu of taking her to a hospital (where they would likely make us wait a long time in the waiting room), we decided to to take her to an after-hours pediatric clinic we have used before where we knew we could get in quickly. We drove there and the kind doctor - who told us he empathized with Ainsley because he was allergic to eggs and beef - checked her and assured us she seemed fine. He told us to give her another dose of Benadryl 4 hours after the first but that we didn't need to do anything else.

After we got home, I watched her for several more minutes and then put her to bed. Dave gave her the Benadryl as directed and, by this morning, she was as chipper as ever and showed no indication that she had endured a massive trauma the previous night.

As is probably obvious from my telling of this experience, we are unsure (a) whether Ainsley actually had an allergic reaction (she had coughing and some red splotches, but that could have been environmental, and the throat hurting could have been because the cold sorbet aggravated it) and (b) if she did, what caused the reaction (Was it the sorbet? Was it something she touched on the table or chair that she got in her mouth? Was it from simply being in a yogurt shop, where milk and nut protein might be present in the air and she breathed it in?). Her symptoms were so different from her previous reactions that I think it might not have been a true reaction, but I know that I did the right thing by giving her the Benadyl and Epi-Pen anyway - when one of the complaints is throat or mouth pain, it could be a life-or-death matter and the safest course is to give the medicine.

Still, I have been beating myself up a fair amount today. Why on earth did I think it was a good idea to take my milk-, egg-, peanut-, and tree-nut-allergic kid into a yogurt shop? To tell you the truth, I had known for over a year about the other child and his mom's recommendation of the sorbet at this place, but had been too afraid to try it with Ainsley. But during our vacation this weekend, Ainsley felt left out when Dave and I and our friends ate certain restaurant foods (e.g., pizza at one place, waffles at another), and so I think I pushed myself to try the TCBY out of guilt - I wanted her to have a treat that normal kids eat because our vacation highlighted so much of what she can't have.

But the TCBY experience reminded me why we must sacrifice Ainsley's emotional well-being to some degree for the sake of ensuring her safety - it's just not worth it to me for her to feel included if that means risking her health like that. It left me a total wreck and Ainsley has some pretty awful memories of her first trip to "the ice-cream store," as she called it. Needless to say, I am not stepping out of our comfort zone again in the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Are you ever jealous of people allergic to just one food?

I ask this because I'm embarrassed to say I am. Now, I know that, to the mom of, say, a peanut-allergic child, the idea that anyone would be jealous of their situation would seem completely ludicrous. But I have to admit, so many times I have longed for Ainsley to "just" have a nut allergy or an egg allergy or even a milk allergy (although milk is, in my opinion, the most difficult allergen to avoid in our culture so that is at the bottom of my list of allergies to "want").

I have noticed this feeling among a lot of moms with kids who have multiple food allergies. I don't want to characterize it as a divide between the single-food-allergic and multiple-food-allergic; it's more like the feeling of, "Wow, it would be so much easier to prepare for/order food for/protect a kid allergic to just one thing." I think moms of kids with multiple food allergies are very aware of the difference, even if the moms of single-food-allergic kids aren't. For example, once, when I was talking with a mom of a child allergic to milk, eggs, and fish, and mentioned something a mom of a peanut-allergic child had said to me about dealing with allergies, the mom replied, "Leigha, don't you think it's just a lot different (read:more difficult) for us since we have kids with multiple food allergies?"

Even some food-allergy products are marketed toward children who have just one allergy. See, for example, here (cards to show kids what they can and can't eat if they're allergic to peanuts) and here (Alexander the Elephant books - he is allergic to peanuts only; to my knowledge, FAAN doesn't have books with any characters allergic to more than two foods). Some restaurants like Chili's and Burger King also very unhelpfully group their foods into separate allergy menus based on whether you're allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat, OR soy - meaning you have to look at several of these special menus and compare the various foods listed on them to determine what your multiple-food-allergic kid can have.

I certainly don't mean to alienate any of you whose children have just one allergy. Food allergies are tough whether your kid is allergic to one food or all of the top 8, and there have been many times I've just been thankful that Ainsley isn't allergic to any other foods, such as soy or wheat, which we live on.

But I have often fantasized about the options that we would have if Ainsley were just allergic to one (or even two) foods. Each time we go to the allergist for her yearly appointment, I pray that Ainsley will have grown out of at least one of her allergens. When your kid has so many allergies, it's really hard sometimes to imagine that she'll ever lead a normal life ("Yes, she may grow out of milk and egg, but she'll still likely have the peanut and tree nut allergies"; "yes, her peanut number was much lower this year, but her egg number was still through the roof ..."). It frankly seems nearly impossible that she will overcome all of her food-allergy hurdles.

That said, I sincerely appreciate the advocacy that all food allergy moms undertake on behalf of their children - it benefits the multiple-food-allergic and single-food-allergic alike. The mom who has transformed our local elementary school into a food-allergy-sensitive environment has a son allergic to "only" peanuts and almonds, and I am forever grateful to her. I just hope that one day we can narrow down Ainsley's allergies into a comparable list.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Turf battles over food in the classroom

After an entire school year of no real issues in dealing with parents of Ainsley's classmates over party food, etc., I have had two difficult circumstances lately, both of which felt like I was in a tug-of-war with the other mother in terms of trying to assert control over a particular food-related event.

The first was last week, when I was attempting to coordinate food for a party the kids are having for the last day of school. Ainsley's class is celebrating with another class, so I was emailing back and forth with the room mom for the other class about the food. Evidently Ainsley's teachers had already told the mom that a certain brand of chicken nugget was safe for Ainsley and the other food-allergic child in Ainsley's class. Asserting control rather early-on, the other room mom emailed me with a menu that she had already decided upon and told me that she had already solicited volunteers from her class to bring all of the food items for that class and that I should do the same for my class. The list included the safe brand of nuggets and also ice cream pops, which obviously aren't safe. I emailed her back and told her I would get the safe nuggets for both classes (I mean, if it's a joint party, wouldn't it make sense to have one person bring enough of the food item for both classes?) and that since my daughter was allergic to milk I would get safe popsicles for the party instead of ice cream pops.

Surprisingly, her response insisted that we stick to the "two sets of the same food" plan for the party, with the exception that I could buy the popsicles for everyone because I knew which types were safe. Okay, fine. Whatever.

A couple of days later, I get an email from this mom saying she is at the store and it no longer carries the safe nuggets the teachers told her to buy, so would this other type do. I emailed her back and told her I had no idea whether that brand was safe and insisted, for a second time, that I buy the nuggets. Her response: "I bought the other kind and will email you the list of ingredients tonight." Before she could even get the ingredient list to me, I corresponded with the other food allergy mom in our class who confirmed that the brand of nuggets the other room mom had bought was indeed unsafe. The other food allergy mom took matters into her own hands at that point and emailed the room mom, telling her that those nuggets were unsafe but that she (the food-allergy mom) had just bought enough safe nuggets for both classes. Problem solved. The room mom wrote back insisting that she reimburse the food allergy mom the $3 or whatever it cost to supply her class's nuggets. Nice gesture, I guess, but what would have been even nicer would have been to allow us to buy the nuggets for both classes in the first place.

The second moment of awkwardness happened yesterday. I should mention that, at the beginning of the school year, I emailed all of the class parents to let them know about Ainsley's allergies and offered to make something myself for their children's birthdays should they choose to have their child's birthday celebrated in class. I explained that, otherwise, Ainsley (and the other food allergic child in the class) would have to eat a separate treat and would feel excluded.

I got no protest and everything worked well all year, until last week, when the teachers told me that one of the other moms wanted to celebrate all of the summer birthdays (including her children's) by bringing cupcakes from a local bakery to school. Trying to be polite, I decided not to push the issue and talked with the other food allergy mom about sending separate cupcakes to school for our two kids. Then, yesterday, the summer-birthday mom sent an email to all of the class parents saying that "We" had decided on ice cream sundaes instead of cupcakes and asking whether that would work for Ainsley and the other food-allergic child. "We" meaning she and the teachers? She and her kids? I certainly wasn't included in the "We."

Obviously, sundaes do not work well for my milk-allergic child. More than that, Ainsley especially covets other children's ice cream - it's like her food-allergy Achilles heel. She doesn't mind when people eat most things, like cheese, around her, but if someone pulls out a fine-looking, forbidden ice cream treat, her face immediately falls and she stares at it with a heart-wrenching look of both wonder and jealousy.

I responded as nicely as possible, explaining that if by "sundae" the mom meant she'd bring a gallon of vanilla ice cream, some Hershey's syrup, and some sprinkles, I could probably concoct a suitable substitution by sending our soy ice cream, our syrup (Ainsley can have Hershey's but I planned to send our bottle to limit the possibility of cross-contamination), and our safe sprinkles. I couldn't help myself, though - at the end of the email, I explained that fancy ice-cream treats are substantially more difficult to imitate than other treats like cupcakes, but if that's what she really wanted, I'd do my best to create a good replacement for Ainsley.

Thankfully, the mom took pity on me and ended up nixing the sundaes in favor of cake - not quite as good as cupcakes, but I guess I'll take it. Now, of course, the other food allergy mom and I are emailing back and forth about whether we should send slices of safe cake for our kids or cupcakes.

I really can't wrap my head around why other parents have a hard time ceding control over the food in classrooms. I mean, maybe it's just me, but if my kid wasn't food-allergic, I wouldn't care in the least what the menu was for class parties or who would be providing the food. I would just be thankful it wasn't my problem. But apparently it is a big deal to some people, and they don't like food allergy moms dictating the menu even when we have legitimate medical and social reasons for doing so. I wish I could put at the end of every one of my emails to these people how much I hate coordinating the food and I'm only doing it because I've seen one too many times the look on my daughter's face when she can't have something yummy that other kids are eating.

If there's one thing I'd love those of you non-food-allergy moms to take away from this rambling post, it's this: Please don't plan the food for a class event in a manner that is sure to leave out one of the kids in the class. The kids are who you're doing it for, right? Then please include all of them. If it's your kid's birthday and you want to bring something to celebrate, fine - but please ask the mom of the food-allergic kid what would be safe for that child instead of arbitrarily choosing something and forcing the food-allergy mom to try and come up with a substitute for her child. I mean, why should we have to make a cupcake/cake/sundae for our child to celebrate your kid's birthday?

And if the food-allergy mom, in her generosity, offers to bring or buy something safe for the entire class, don't turn her down because you don't want to impose. Let her bring the food if that's what she is most comfortable with. It's her child's safety and mental well-being at stake, for goodness sake. The rest of the kids are not going to remember whether they had sundaes or cupcakes or cookies or sugar cubes to celebrate little Billy's birthday, but I can promise you that the food-allergic kid will remember (and be able to describe in disturbing detail) the yummy unsafe treat the other kids were given and that she had to eat something different.

Edited to add: My comments by no means apply to birthday parties. When we RSVP "yes" to a party, we know what we are getting into. We happily bring along a safe cupcake for Ainsley. We know that we are there to celebrate another child's birthday and it's totally up to that kid's parents what to serve at the party and what kind of cake to have, and we do not expect them to bend over backwards to accommodate Ainsley's allergies.

But this is why we only go to about 3 birthday parties a year - it's not a completely pleasant experience for us and we find ourselves constantly on guard in terms of monitoring the food around Ainsley at the party. In this day and age, however, avoiding birthday parties doesn't get us out of the trap of "party food." The whole deal about celebrating birthdays and other holidays/important days via a class party (e.g., Thanksgiving Feast, last day of school, etc.) is a foreign experience for me as I did not grow up with that. I think it's an unnecessary part of today's school routine and would be over the moon if most schools banned party celebrations involving food.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Crazy Simple Tortilla Soup

Here is my tried-and-true recipe for Tortilla Soup. It requires only a stovetop, big pot, can opener, and five minutes of free time to throw everything in the pot. I get rave reviews for this soup whenever I make it - and this is from Texans, who know good tortilla soup.

Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free Tortilla Soup

1 can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can chopped green chiles
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can safe chicken broth
1 packet safe taco seasoning
Optional - 1 cup bite-sized pieces of chicken (I recommend Hormel Natural Choice carved chicken, which is precooked - you can quickly tear it into bite-sized pieces and throw it in the pot)

Combine all ingredients in a large pot, along with one can-full of water. Simmer on medium heat for at least 20 minutes.

Eat as-is or top with crushed tortilla chips and/or guacamole. If you are not allergic to dairy, you can also top with shredded cheese.

Ridiculously easy meals

When thinking about the subjects of most of my posts, I realized that I am apparently an expert in "lazy cooking." I don't create real, certifiable recipes. Instead, I create, and have amassed from other sources, a heap of easy meal ideas for food-allergy moms who are tired from all of the real cooking they have to do. So I'm going to add to the sidebar of this blog a list of Ridiculously Easy, Allergy-Friendly Meal Ideas. I hope it helps those of you who have 20 minutes to get something relatively healthy and dairy-, egg-, peanut-, and tree-nut free on the table without having to brown, grate, or chop anything.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sensory integration update

We went for the follow-up meeting at the sensory integration clinic and met with the occupational therapist (OT) who did Ainsley's evaluation. She concluded that Ainsley does indeed have Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) - specifically, she has difficulty processing signals from her vestibular system, the system that is related to balance and spatial orientation. Basically, she can't control her body really well and it makes her frustrated, which can cause emotional outbursts and has caused her to avoid doing certain things that require a lot of coordination and balance.

We - my husband, and my sister-in-law (the counselor) and I - agreed with the therapist's observations and not much of what she said was a surprise. In fact, most of the things she pointed out were things we had noticed in our own interaction with Ainsley.

So, we're going to start OT sessions twice a week. The therapist was very optimistic that the sessions would help Ainsley improve her coordination, balance, and spatial orientation enough to where she would be able to feel comfortable engaging in more complex physical activities. I am excited because I think these sessions may encourage Ainsley to become more physically active - right now she doesn't like to play on playgrounds or do other physical things like that too much. I always like having a "game plan" so I am glad we're done with the evaluation phase and can finally move on to the treatment phase.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another ridiculously easy "recipe" plus Ainsley's yucky day at school

Do you like Rice-A-Roni? When I was a kid, I LOVED it. But I don't eat it very much now because I don't like preparing side dishes. Instead, my preference is always to make a casserole-type dish that mixes the protein, starch, and vegetables/fruit all together. (I'm not sure why that is; it might be because I like eating vegetables more when they're mixed with other things; it might be because I'm lazy and like to throw everything into one big pot/skillet/casserole dish.)

Well, I have found the solution: Rice-A-Roni + mixed vegetables + bite-sized pieces of chicken = yummy skillet meal! I got the idea from The Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Kid-Pleasing Cookbook, which has a section on easy meal ideas for tired mothers (that would be me alright). Basically, it suggested adding bite-sized pieces of chicken and some mixed vegetables to the Rice-A-Roni and preparing according to package directions. So that's what I did, using pre-cooked chicken (Hormel Natural Choice Carved Chicken Breast - you can find it near the deli meats) and frozen vegetables. Here is the "recipe" for those of you who like to follow directions:

1. Melt 2 Tbsp dairy-free margarine in a heated (deep) skillet. (I added another Tbsp or so because Ainsley is a skinny minny and could use the extra calories.)

2. Add rice-a-roni noodles/rice, chicken (torn into bite-sized pieces), and about 2 cups or so of mixed vegetables (I used a mix of green beans, peas, carrots, and corn).

3. Saute for 3-5 minutes.

4. Add 2 1/2 cups water and packet of seasoning. Mix well and bring to a boil.

5. After mixture starts boiling, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more.

It was so good that I'm already looking forward to having the rest for leftovers tomorrow!

Now, on to my second topic - Ainsley's yucky day at school. Short story - she started throwing up around lunchtime so we had to pick her up. We still aren't sure why. It didn't seem to be an allergic reaction because she didn't have any other signs (no itchy mouth, no hives, etc.) and she didn't seem to have eaten anything to which she is allergic. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to be a stomach virus because she has no fever and, after that initial bout of vomiting, she has been fine. So I'm wondering if it could have been food poisoning, but I don't think she ate anything this morning that would have caused food poisoning.

In any event, she is acting completely normal now. She's actually had a pretty good appetite all afternoon and has been very active in the last few hours (she is currently chasing her baby sister around the house, in fact). But that's one thing about having a kid with food allergies - you never know for sure in times like this whether your kid had a reaction or whether it was something else.